1. Listen to your patient.
Upon arrived to the ED, among others issues like trouble breathing, I had a throbbing headache. It had had it for 5 days, by that point I was thinking about cracking my head open, releasing some of the pressure myself. My ED doc told ordered Benadryl IV for it. I thought she was crazy, but moments later the throbbing was down to a mild pulse. It was the best I had felt in days. Benadryl was my friend.
Upon admission to the floor, my headache returned. My nurses were attentive and kind, but they didn’t make the connection, Benadryl equaled no headache. When I explained, they still didn’t get it. At one point a nurse handed me Tylenol, to which I scoffed. I hadn’t been able to keep anything down for over 24 hours, and prior to that had been eating Tylenol like candy. These pills where going to make me vomit – nothing more.
Finally a nurse seeking clarification asked me if I was itchy. I looked her in the eye the best I could, explained my situation and asked her to get whatever it was the ED physician had prescribed. She was back moments later with Benadryl; administering this as she should have been headed home. She was a keeper; for the first time in hours I was able to be alert enough to fall asleep.
2. Morphine is not a miracle drug.
A few days later, the Benadryl had lost it’s power, I became yet again a blob. I was breathing better, and my main complaint was my aching head. I could deal with everything else. Benadryl didn’t work; morphine was ordered. The dose didn’t last, I needed more before I could have it. The dose was increased. It still didn’t last. I was starting to loose my faith in pain medication. I had two doses close together. I was floating and spinning in bed, very carousel-esk. But I still had a headache. And I didn’t feel like myself; too tired to do anything, to restless to fall asleep. More then anything I was worried about my oxygen level decreasing without my knowledge. Eventually it wore off and slept a full 6 hours. I woke up and promised myself never again.
3. Food is for pleasure.
When I first arrived I couldn’t eat anything. I had no appetite, no ability to keep anything down, and no energy to chew. I was given several fine looking meals, each of them were tossed into the trash as quickly as they were assembled. Food was pointless at that time. When I finally didn’t have to keep my basin near my bed, the food suddenly turned gross. It smelled bad, it was presented poorly and there was no way I could eat it. This may have had something to do with the fact that I could never get my menu to the kitchen in time. It wasn’t anyone fault – I just wasn’t able to coordinate it. I got a turkey burger when I was hoping for soup, and something like eggs when all I wanted was a bagel. I couldn’t drink weak coffee out of a plastic mug – that is for sick people. Thank God for friends, Panera and real food.
4. Don’t overstay your welcome.
I’m not sure if I actually over stayed my welcome, but I was just as happy to go home as I was to be there. I needed the medication, the tests, the care and then I needed to go home. I was a bit too comfortable in the hospital for my nurses liking. Taking walks around the floor, I even visited a few co-workers which was the highlight of my afternoon. My last day, hours before I was discharged, I may have made it outside. I was craving some fresh air and sunlight. This lasted only a few minutes before security explained I was not allowed to sit on the bench. His bravado was so piercing I thought he might brake out in song. I asked him if he wanted to cuff me to make it more legit. He didn’t find me cute.
5. The nurse is your only source of everything.
Probably the most important thing I learned this entire time is the why behind that desperation each patient feels when their nurse walks into the room. Your specialists talk to you for about 2 minutes a day. Your attending physician visits once and if you didn’t remember every question in that moment, you’re out of luck. Test are drawn, scans are done, no one tells you what the results are. No one tells you what they a really looking for. No one tells you if they found it. It became clear to me, that the nurse is not just the keeper of the meds. She is truly the captain of the ship. Ok, the second in command. The medical team takes the wheel, the nurse is the lookout, and the one telling the passengers what the heck is going on, and speaking keeping the captain(s) in line.
I depended on my team to answer questions, be on top of things, know my illness and abide by the policies of the hospital. I wanted them to do it all right, because if they didn’t, my health was up for grabs. I respect more now – the burden on the shoulders of every nurse who has ever cared for a patient, answered a family member, spoken up to a doctor. Our patients really are depending on us. The nurse is their everything, their commander, their pain meds, their advocate and their greatest source of hope.
It’s a responsibility I am honored to have.